By LUIZ MARQUES
HE visit of General Oscar Carmona, President of the Portuguese Republic, to St. Tome and Angola, has drawn the attention of the world to the Portuguese colonies on the West Coast of to the remarkable history of their discovery and development, and, by a natural consequence, to the particular characteristics of Portuguese colonisation. In the first place, these colonies date back to a surprisingly early age. With most countries, settlement and expansion in Africa took place principally in the last century. In the popular mind it is bound up with the Victorian era—visions of whiskered explorers crowned with solar topees of an odd shape, and perhaps a few three-cornered hats belonging to eighteenth century pioneers, of the Captain Cook type. But to the Portuguese, African exploration and colonisation is part of the late Middle Ages and has loomed large in national life up to the present day. They see their great discoverers in tabards and hose, when not actually fighting in plate armour.
Before Joan of Arc
By 1420, that is, long before Joan of Arc had relieved Orleans, Prince Henry of Portugal had set up his famous School of Navigation at Sagres. Only three years after Agincourt, Ganc.alves Zarco discovered Madeira, and in 1433, Gil Eannes doubled Cape Bojador and the exploration of the West Coast of Africa might be said to have begun in good earnest.
By 1460 (England was in the throes of the Wars of the Roses), Guinea and the Cape Verde Islands had been discovered and partly settled. Indeed, Cape Verde has the distinction of being the world's oldest colony, in the modern sense of the term. During the two ensuing centuries the Portuguese sailors, and with them the traders and the missionaries, pushed out to the furthest ends of the earth.
China and Japan
Though the discovery of the sea route to India by Vasco da Gama in 1497 was the culminating point of this movement, the Portuguese continued to extend their influence eastward till it embraced the Malay Peninsula and even China and Japan.
It is perhaps difficult to realise it now, but in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, European politics must have appeared petty and parochial to the leaders of Portugal who were actively pursuing an imperial policy of expansion and trade in lands hitherto unknown. Within a relatively short time they worked up a flourishing colonial export trade which dominated European markets for nearly two centuries. Gold was mined on the Guinea coast, spices of every kind (a staple necessity in those days before cold storage) brought from Africa and from the East, and sugar actually planted and developed in Madeira, Azores and St. Tome, so that from being a rare luxury (like caviar now) it became a commodity within the reach of most people. In 1472 the Flemish market was flooded with Portuguese colonial sugar, and by 1490 it was a common merchandise in the shops of Genoa and Venice.
Owing to many causes—demographic, dynastic and psychological—the Portuguese Empire declined considerably during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Brazil became Portugal's favourite colony and the African possessions—harassed the while by slavers and pirates of every nationality— suffered in consequence.
A decree dated 1730 actually forbade, the working of African tunics, so as to leave the field open to the Brazilian product. When the great South American colon3 severed her political connection with the parent country at the beginning of last century, the Portuguese rulers turned their attention once more to the neglected African territories.
By this time the competition for power and land was very keen, as several countries had realised the potential wealth of Africa and indeed the economic system of the whole of Europe was now bound up with overseas products, as Portugal's had been since the fifteenth century.
In their slow but remarkably sure way, the Portuguese have managed to impart a particular character to their possessions, making them, as it were, provinces of Portugal and an integral part of the country. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Luanda, the capital of Angola, was the only city in Africa, south of the Equator— if by city we understand a civic centre with streets and blocks of houses, churches, schools and other institutions.
The Portuguese colonies have a higher percentage of white population than any others in the tropical zone, and most of the whites are nationals. The contact of the Portuguese with the native races is again one of the most characteristic features of their colonisation. In no Portuguese colony is there a marked antagonism between the two colours; in most of them actual friendliness prevails.
A very fair description of Portuguese administration in a trying climate and with small means is given in Mr. Archibald Lyall's book White and Black Make Brown, a wise and amusing account of a recent visit to the Cape Verde Islands and Portuguese Guinea. On the subject of the treatment of the natives, the author quotes Sir Harry Johnston as saying: " The Portuguese are at heart essentially kind, good-natured people and least of all Christian European races have a contempt for the coloured races. Their gentle natures seem subtly attuned to those of the negroes. In the adjacent colony of Senegal there is conscription and a large military establishment. The Portuguese hold Guinea with a force of two hundred and sixty-four volunteers recruited from the local tribes and commanded by six white officers and eleven N.C.O.s."
One should add that the native population of Portuguese Guinea is over half a million, comprising several fighting tribes that have given great trouble in the past.
In view of Portugal's long connection with the African continent, the visit of the President of the Republic is an event of particular significance. It is the first time that the head of the State, whether king or president, has ever visited the colonies, and General Carmona's voyage cannot but have a stimulating and beneficial effect on the life of the communities that he is visiting.
The great Colonial Trade Fair that he is due to open in Luanda at the end of the month may be taken as a symbol of a new era of prosperity for the Portuguese colonies.